I probably shouldn't have started another fic while I still have so much going on with Finding Common Ground, but the sequel plot to The Choices We Made landed in my head recently and here I am! I'm not giving up FCG, but the Choices universe is my first baby and therefore this one will get the more frequent updates.
This fic takes place two months after Chapter 74 of Choices and will go into more of the aftermath from Choices, Harry's Maintenance Phase, and the status of his magic. Just a heads up, it may not be epilogue compliant for that universe. I really wanted to tie up Choices with the epilogue so if someone wanted to read it as a stand-alone it would have a complete ending, while others can continue on to the sequel if they wanted more. Therefore, I'm not going to alter the epilogue to Choice, but at the same time I'm not going to let the epilogue dictate what happens in this story. As a sequel, it does assume you read The Choices We Made, but I will try to add little reminders here and there (for my own memory too!) especially in the first few chapters.
As the summary and genre hints, this one is going to have a little more mystery built into it, on top of the angst while Harry and Snape are adjusting to their new life and recovering from the trauma at the Manor (and the previous year). For the most part, this will follow the same format and I have a good chunk (roughly 30k words) started already.
Thank you for taking the time to check out this story (and for having read The Choices We Made), I really hope I do our characters justice, and you enjoy the second journey I have in store for Harry and Snape!
Disclaimer for the whole story: I do not own any Harry Potter Characters or anything in its universe. If you recognize it from the series, it's not mine. My OC's (Healer Smithe, Healer Walker, Dr Swanson) are mine and any likeness to other people or characters in another story is purely coincidental.
Saturday 19th, July 1997
Severus laid in his brand new bed, courtesy of the ongoing renovations to his Spinner's End home, thinking about what needed to be accomplished that day. The sun was shining through his street-facing window and he could hear the clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen below signifying that the young wizard living with him full time was not only awake, but unfortunately had probably been for several hours now. As Severus and Harry were approaching the two month mark since their chaotic rescue from Malfoy Manor, and the death of Voldemort, there was no more denying something was not right with Harry. The teenager had been getting more and more distant with not only the professor, but his friends as well. Severus noticed - particularly since his last chemotherapy treatment, yet he admitted the timing could be a coincidence - he hadn't been sleeping nearly as well as he had been even in the first couple of weeks since their rescue. Severus was concerned, obviously, yet so in over his head on this topic, he didn't exactly know where to turn to help Harry through this challenging phase.
Which brought his thoughts back to the day ahead of them, having decided the best course of action to start figuring out how to help the Gryffindor was to discuss it with his muggle Pediatric Oncologist, Dr Meghan Swanson. It was a slippery slope though because no matter which way Severus had tried to approach his young charge with his concerns, he always said he was fine - a word the professor still loathed from last fall's debacles with Harry's mental health struggles - and therefore he didn't necessarily want the Gryffindor to know he would be reaching out to his physician for assistance; it would only make him more self-conscious about whatever he was struggling through.
Before leaving the castle at the end of the school year last month, Severus had been educated about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for both himself and Harry. At the time, the young wizard seemed perfectly fine with the transition from the hospital wing back to his quarters in the dungeons, and even started attending meals in the Great Hall the final two weeks of term. In hindsight, he could see how those early days gave him a false sense of security about how Harry was actually handling everything that had happened to him, and as things started to settle down, his walls were slowly crumbling in. To help keep Harry's mind occupied - specifically while his friends spent most of their time studying for their final examinations - on the weekends, Severus strategically left the castle with the Gryffindor on pre-planned day trips.
The first trip they went on was to fulfill his promise to take Harry to Godric's Hollow in order to see his parents' graves. Not so surprisingly, it had been the first time Severus, himself, visited the cemetery to pay his own respects in this reality and to see it with the expectation of his son's grave being beside them was almost debilitating. After the cemetery, the pair of wizards walked into the charming village square towards where he knew a special obelisk sat in its center. Severus hadn't told Harry about the statue erected in his family's honor, afraid the meek Gryffindor would not care to see how the other residents viewed his parents' sacrifice. He knew the moment Harry noticed the obelisk change into the statue of his family when his already slow strides drastically decreased. Torn between doing what he wanted - to go up and comfort Harry - and what he thought he should do - give Harry the time and space to accept what had happened - he stood in the middle of the square with his body facing perpendicular to the distraught teen. Eventually, the Boy-Who-Lived worked his way through it and approached the statue depicting Lily and James holding baby Harry. Neither spoke as they stood by the statue thinking about how different their lives would have been had the family of three stayed intact, and Severus couldn't help feeling relieved; Harry could have stayed with his parents after being hit with the Killing Curse for the second time, and yet he'd chosen to come back.
The final part of their visit in Godric's Hollow, and the one he expected to be the hardest on the young wizard, was to the old cottage where Voldemort had attacked the family on Halloween in 1981; the event that triggered so much disparity in Harry's young life. This time, Severus did not leave his side as they stood looking out at the ruins of the home and the sign in front stating the cottage remained in its ruined state as a monument to the Potters and as a reminder of the violence that tore apart their family. The sign had been filled with supportive messages throughout the years for the young survivor, and reading through them seemed to fill Harry with hope. As mournful as the day had been, it helped to heal the void in Harry; especially now with Voldemort really gone and they officially closed a chapter of his life only to be looked back upon instead of continuing to live through it.
On the second weekend, the professor brought the young wizard back to Cokeworth and showed him where his mother grew up and around Spinner's End. Severus himself had only gone back to his childhood home in this reality the one time before Christmas to retrieve the pictures for Harry. This time he had the chance to take a really good look at the place and he was surprised - and appalled - at how his former self chose to continue living there each summer. The row house was far more rundown than he remembered and he was embarrassed to bring Harry to see it. Severus had to hide his surprise over the teen actually wanting to live with him after seeing the state of the place, but as expected, Harry was humble about it all and together they made plans on how to fix it up for the pair of them to move in after the end of term. Throughout all of their planning, he found himself having to resist the urge to recreate their home from his old reality - where the memories with his son were still so strong - because this Harry was different and regardless of his own feelings about the space, he wanted to create one that would help Harry finally feel at home.
That left only one weekend before the end of term, and with it, Harry's first chemotherapy at the outpatient center of the hospital. Exams had ended the previous week, so naturally the professor assumed Harry would choose to enjoy the time with his friends. Although he did see them, in hindsight, the former spy should have known something was amiss with the young wizard then. As far as he knew - which admittedly was not as much as he would have liked - when they left the castle, Harry had yet to talk with Draco about what had happened during their time in the Manor and was probably a big part of his current struggles. Assuming the Gryffindor needed closure, Severus tried different ways to find out more information or suggest he reach out to the blonde Slytherin, but he was sure every attempt fell on deaf ears.
Unfortunately, Severus knew how difficult the first step of healing from their imprisonment could be. Only days before the end of term, and going home to Cokeworth for the summer, he managed to take his own first step in putting away the demons from that experience by having lunch in Hogsmeade with Lucius and Narcissa. He felt lighter than before the luncheon - and therefore deemed it
successful- since that afternoon, however, Lucius had made no less than five different attempts to try and convince Severus to join the Malfoys apothecary research team. Unwilling to commit to any fall plans before knowing what was going on with Harry, he continued to brush off the other Slytherin's offer; so while it helped in one aspect of his life, it further complicated another.
Overall, Harry's physical health had seemed to improve as he settled into. his Maintenance Phase of treatment. The young wizard had good days where if it weren't for his tablet medication Severus would hardly know he was still fighting the Leukemia. Other times, he had bad days where the normally vibrant Gryffindor could barely get out of bed; and that was outside of his treatment days where he faced the same side effects he had all year long. By the end of the school year, they were both far more exhausted than they should have been given that the last month was spent without any classes to attend or teach and his alternating health was difficult to manage at times.
Severus pressed his palms onto his eyes as he finally committed to getting up for the day. He quietly made his way through the corridor from his bedroom to the upstairs lavatory he shared with Harry, hearing the unmistakable sound of cooking from the kitchen and hoping the teen had at least been able to get some decent sleep before his treatment later that morning. This room was one of the first to be redone - after Harry's room, of course - as it was completely unsuitable, bordering on unsafe, for a teenager to use; not to mention to use it comfortably after his treatments. The room was still small, but it was amazing what a coat of paint - grey to brighten up the space and match their quarters back at Hogwarts - and some new fixtures could do to make it feel completely different and it was more than enough for the two of them.
Harry's appointment at the clinic in Surrey wasn't until eleven o'clock in the morning, meaning he still had several hours to fill before needing to leave in order to be there thirty minutes early. In that time, Severus wanted to discuss the next big thing for the Potter & Snape household: Harry's milestone 17th birthday. The professor would be lying if he said he wasn't looking at the upcoming occasion filled with joy laced with grief. He was grateful to be spending this important date with this Harry, but he could admit he was still grieving the loss of his son and he could not overlook the fact that this was a time they were supposed to be spending together at the beach. Two weeks ago, Severus had almost suggested taking Harry back to Shell Cottage for his birthday, except that was around the time he started noticing the Gryffindor's withdrawal from the world around him and it only continued to increase as the days passed. Splashing water onto face - in hopes of looking more put together then he was - Severus finished up in the lavatory, completely unprepared for what day ahead of him would hold.
Dressed in his standard muggle attire of a white Oxford shirt and black trousers, the professor made his way down the creaking stairs towards the kitchen where he already knew Harry would be. The stairs had been his biggest frustration from their renovations. No matter how many spells - or physically hammered nails - he'd thrown at the old wooden feature, it refused to stay silent and each step he took announced his arrival with a painful sounding creak. Although he couldn't hide his own travels throughout their home, knowing whenever Harry walked from one floor to the other - mostly during his bouts of insomnia - had its benefits. Oddly, this was not an issue in the Spinner's End home in his old reality, adding to the mind boggling mystery of what was causing the noise in the first place.
Approaching the kitchen from the sitting room - the only room requiring no renovations in the home - Severus brandished his wand the second he heard murmuring coming from the other side of the door. With slow and steady steps, the former spy held his breath crossing between the sofa and the fireplace in the sitting room, and then passed the desk to the right of the kitchen door where Harry liked to work on his sketching. The murmuring became louder the closer he got to the closed door, and he could confirm there were two voices in the kitchen - as opposed to Harry nervously talking to himself - yet they were still murmurs suggesting the use of the Muffliato spell. One of the voices was easily identified as Harry's - Severus would be able to pick his voice out from almost anywhere - and the other was most definitely female; narrowing down the list of potential guests dramatically, as well as the level of danger he could be walking into. After all, Bellatrix Lastrange was killed at the Battle of Malfoy Manor, as it was being called, and if Alecto Carrow managed to escape from Azkaban, he certainly would have known about it. That left very few other dangerous options.
Swinging the door opened, he dropped his ebony wand at the sight in front of him and instantly felt foolish for his knee jerk reaction. With her back to the door, Molly Weasley was standing directly across from him at the stove making breakfast with Harry sitting at the three person table along the right side of the room.
"Morning, Severus," the Gryffindor wizard sullenly greeted him. "Mrs Weasley firecalled this morning and asked to drop in... I didn't think you'd mind… but I probably should have asked you first."
The Weasley matriarch confidently turned and handed him a cup of black coffee. "Thank you Molly," he accepted it graciously and then added, "you know you're welcome here anytime, however you need not cook for us."
"Oh, it's nothing, Severus," she stated rather pointedly while levitating three bowls of porridge, yoghurt, and an assortment of fruits over to the table. "You'll be pleased to know Harry offered to whip something up for me, but I simply refused."
Severus made eye contact with the raven-haired Gryffindor still dressed in his pair of navy blue pyjamas, who raised his shoulders and took a careful bite of his porridge; his customary breakfast before chemotherapy treatment, showing Molly knew what today was for her surrogate son. The thought of her diligently keeping track of his treatment schedule warmed him in a way he didn't even have in his old reality. Back there, he'd obviously had more acquaintances - some might call them friends - then his counterpart here, yet here. those same relationships, built over a much smaller amount of time, had a much greater meaning to him. It was also a testament to this Harry's need to be surrounded by these friends as a way to make up for his lack of parental guidance before things changed between the last year. Now, the teenager had an entire village of people willing to help him, if only the young wizard could see how much he needed said help and could learn to accept it.
"So what brings you over, Molly?" Severus asked when they were collectively around halfway through their impromptu breakfast plans.
If the witch had any ulterior motives - as the professor suspected she did - she never let on about them. Instead, she flushed a bit on her cheeks, smiled at Harry and announced, "Someone has a very special birthday coming up and I wanted to talk to you both about it. If it's not too much, I'd like to have a small party… that is, unless you have plans already."
Naturally, Harry's face lit up bright red at the mention of his birthday. Last year, things had been so chaotic and the Gryffindor had been far too sick to celebrate his sixteenth, so this would essentially be the first real birthday the two of them spent together. Severus wasn't at all surprised the Weasley matriarch would also want to mark Harry's coming of age. He'd been like a son to her for so many years, and down to his core, the professor was thankful she could be there for him in this reality before he arrived.
Raising his eyebrows towards the young wizard, Severus admitted, "Actually, we hadn't had a chance to discuss it yet."
"You don't need to go through all of that Mrs Weasley-" Harry protested, but was promptly interrupted.
"Nonsense," she bellowed again, "seventeen is a big moment for any witch or wizard and should be celebrated in some way."
The professor could see Harry's confliction written all over his face. Molly was correct, for any normal wizard seventeen marked the time when The Trace was lifted and they could use magic outside of school making it a time to rejoice. Harry, though, could not. The chemotherapy he was taking - both in the tablets and the IV form - was slowly burning out his magical core trying to protect him from their awful side effects. With the soul fragment from Voldemort now gone, and with it the block protecting his core, any magic he used, intentionally or accidentally, would burn through his core faster.
Adding to the magic component anxiety was the fact that when he was seventeen and an adult to the wizarding world, Minerva's guardianship over him would officially expire. While his former Head of House took guardianship of him on paper, leaving Severus the true responsibility for his well-being, the idea of having no real 'parent' would be overwhelming. These two large dark clouds looming over the 31st of July would lead to it feeling no more special than any other birthday to the Gryffindor, which living with his relatives went completely unnoticed. Once again, Severus was torn between pushing Harry to do what he thought the young wizard needed to do versus what he wanted to do, and he had no clue which was the right answer.
"In that case," Molly declared, "Harry, you finish up your breakfast while Severus and I work out the details. Nothing big, of course, it's far too close to your treatment."
"Really, it's fine-"
"I'll make certain it's nothing over the top," he reassured the teen to help ease his visual anxiety over the idea, as he stood. "You finish your breakfast."
"Yes, sir," Harry obediently muttered, taking another minuscule bite of his porridge; another indication there was something plaguing the young wizard's mind.
Unceremoniously, he led Molly back into the sitting room, whispering Muffliato once the door was closed, otherwise he fully knew they could be overheard perfectly from the kitchen. Too worked up over trying to anticipate whatever the witch truly wanted to discuss, he chose to stand to the left of the fireplace, nestled between his towering bookshelves full of various texts he had collected throughout the years. The books were really the only piece of the house he kept from his counterpart's life during the renovations, as they were still relevant to him; only opting to move some of the darker materials to the top shelf, just in case Harry became a little too curious. Molly chose to sit on the sofa - the same one from his quarters in his old reality where Harry so often rested, especially as he neared the end - and was clearly nervous about whatever else she needed to discuss. He easily picked up on the way she was running the palms of her hands down her long maroon muggle skirt, mismatched from her pink blouse, and her shifting eyes taking in the room around her.
Deciding to put the matriarch out of her nervous misery, he finally asked, "Was there something specific you felt the need to discuss with me? I can already assume this visit is not solely about Harry's birthday."
"I would like to throw him a small party," she conceded, furrowing her eyebrows looking over to him. "I'm worried about him, Severus."
"As am I," he admitted with a frown. "Which is probably why a birthday party is not exactly appropriate given the circumstances."
The red-headed witch waved her hand over to him. "What I'm thinking of is more like a dinner than a party," she admonished him, then paused and said, "Ron tells me Harry hasn't written back and that's not like him. Last year was… obviously different, but he'd assumed since Harry lived here… well, we'd hoped to hear from him."
Outwardly Severus didn't react, but on the inside her statement to Harry's lack of returned communication was deeply concerning. She would have no way of knowing the former spy had actually questioned Harry about writing to his friends the other day, and the young wizard told him he had yet to receive any letters. It didn't excuse his own reasoning for not starting the exchange, but Severus was more focused on the more alarming part; how he hadn't picked up on the Gryffindor's apparently blatant lie.
"Ron has written?" The dark-haired wizard confirmed, his obsidian eyes narrowing as he planned his next move.
Molly skeptically nodded, "Of course he's written! Him and Hermione both have and neither received anything back."
An uncomfortable silence fell between them, the kind Severus used to be able to navigate expertly through and even use to his advantage. But that was before Malfoy Manor, before their lives were torn apart and put back together with the pieces placed close enough to appear correct to any outsider, yet still not fitting perfectly in place creating a façade of calm and healing. Now the former spy found himself crumbling in the silence, needing to fill in the empty space.
"I was planning on speaking with his Oncologist today," Severus divulged, shifting his eyes away from Molly's hazel ones looking to him for answers about the child they both cared deeply about. "I don't know if it's a reaction to his medications or if he's still sorting through everything from the Manor, but she's a good place to start. If she doesn't have any suggestions, I'll reach out to Healer Walker next."
Nadine Walker was the last person Severus still had to reconcile with over the Manor experience. Never did he expect to walk out of the Manor alive and in those situations, things are said which may not normally have been. They had grown to depend on one another - at least during his time at the Manor - and as far he knew she had yet to go back to work at St Mungo's, and was still coming to her own terms with her capture and subsequent role in Draco's Blood Ritual. He'd planned to reach out to check on her - finding he legitimately wanted to know how she was - but every reason he came up with seemed more unrealistic than the next.
"You'll let me know what she says?"
"Of course, Molly. We all want what's best for Harry," he confidently told her, meaning every word of it.
"Perfect," she emphasized the single word giving the professor the impression she wasn't exactly done with him. His suspicion was confirmed when she failed to stand signifying the end to their conversation.
"Was there more you wished to discuss?" He prompted the witch. Her hands were twisting in her lap and she was staring at them as if all the answers to the universe were written on their backs. "What is going on, Molly? You didn't come here for Harry's birthday plans or lacking missives."
"Unfortunately, no I didn't," she confessed, "Albus called an Order meeting last night-" Severus couldn't resist rolling his eyes; apparently his services were no longer required, "-to prepare for any lingering Death Eater activity in the upcoming months."
"If he wants to spend his energy and resources on a - excuse my pun - witch hunt, I am not about to stop him," he explained, folding his arms across his chest in contempt. "However, the likelihood of any leftover Death Eaters being able to come together in any kind of threat is almost non-existent. Without a strong leader, most of whom are either dead or in Azkaban, they won't be able to gain enough traction."
The worry on Molly's face increased with his assessment of the situation and the former Death Eater silently questioned how she had gotten the job of telling him about this in the first place. "Albus disagrees-"
"Tell me, Molly," Severus threw his hands up, releasing the anger and frustration that had been building inside of him, "where was Albus during our two months of captivity?! Where was he during those early morning hours of the 16th?! Sitting at the farm waiting for his soldiers to get back, that's where! Pardon me if I don't look to the headmaster as the all seeing eye he thinks he is after he more or less abandoned his post."
Once the words left Severus's mouth, it released a tension within him he didn't realize he'd been holding onto. The fact that Albus Dumbledore - the leader of the Order of the Phoenix - wasn't in the Manor when the battle took place had bothered him from the moment he landed back at Hogwarts.
"He did the best he could that night," Molly tried to explain. "He planned-"
"Your son was almost killed in that battle," Severus pointed out, "all the while he sat back in the safety of the farm waiting to hear from us when there was no reason he couldn't tell things had gone wrong." He paused for dramatic effect; she already knew what his next question was going to be. "Did anyone happen to send him a patronus?"
Her silence spoke volumes even before replying. "I was told Remus sent one before leaving the wine cellars for the dungeons to get you… that is, once they heard the dueling from us upstairs."
"There you have it."
The professor could tell Molly was just as angry with their leader as he was, and if Albus had gotten an earful from the witch afterwards, Severus wished he could have been there to see it. Her information confirmed his previous assumption of the headmaster having knowledge of things going south early on, and yet the older wizard still wasn't held accountable for his lack of actions during the battle. It would make any claims he made - like the one Molly had just told him - difficult to stand behind, meaning at some point he'd have to sit down with the man and find out what, if anything, was actually going on. Once the professor knew Harry would be alright - at least physically - the last month he lived at the school was spent avoiding Albus as much as possible; never being able to find the right way to express his disappointment in his mentor.
"I can tell you," Severus finally replied, understanding his lack of agreement wouldn't stop the headmaster from pursuing the idea, "should any of my former colleagues be considering an attempt at power - over what I'd still question - they won't come close to having the support needed to be successful. This is no longer related to Voldemort and should now fall to the responsibility of the Auror Department. Let Kingsley and Tonks track down the last of them. As far as I'm concerned, the Order is no longer needed."
"I'll relay your message to him, Severus." Understanding his message loud and clear, the Gryffindor witch nodded her head and stood. "And please do consider my offer for Harry's birthday, I'd love to have you both over at the house at least for dinner."
"Thank you, Molly, I'll speak with Harry about it and let you know either way," Severus politely responded, pulling the beaker of floo powder from the mantle and held it out for her, but before she left he added: "Keep me informed with any other information Albus might have. I'll reach out to some of my associates and see what I can find, although I must admit, after my well known defection, I doubt I'll be able to gain anything of value."
To that, Molly gave him a warm smile - the kind he always felt he never deserved - and then simply turned around, calling out "the Burrow", before stepping into the floo and leaving for Ottery St Catchpole. Severus stood still for a solid minute, clutching onto the bookcase in front of him, as if it was the only thing keeping him upright and if he let go, he would simply collapse to the ground. He was sure of his assessment about the threat - or lack thereof - from the remaining Death Eaters, but he was too paranoid to place all of his trust in himself over something that could end up being so detrimental to Harry's safety. There was no other way to be sure; he'd have to make contact with Lucius over it and hope the Malfoy patriarch hadn't burned every bridge he'd built over his years of aristocracy.
Harry woke up well before dawn on the day of his second chemotherapy treatment of his second cycle and he was already dreading it. Somehow, the monthly treatments were almost worse than when he had them weekly in his previous phases. He wasn't sure if they were actually harder on his body or if it only felt like it because of the three "free weekends" between treatments. Whatever the reason, he hated going and now understood why Dr Swanson had stressed the importance of compliance in this phase and how many patients didn't finish their two or three years of it.
One of the reasons Maintenance felt harder was the outpatient center he now went to for the treatments, which he also hated. With Voldemort gone, so was his need for strict security and therefore he didn't have chemotherapy coming to him any longer. At first, the idea of getting out and having different surroundings for his treatment was almost energizing, but last month he went for the first time and instantly missed the comfort of his own bed or sofa to the public treatment room. Thankfully, he only had a one hour IV for each of these - not counting the time for his blood work, his antiemetic, and the IT making it closer to four hours spent there - and he shuttered just thinking about what spending the five hour treatments there from Consolidation would have been like. Last month, he hadn't really thought about what to do during his time at the clinic - since he used to do them from home and could move around to keep his mind busy - and had spent most of the time talking to Snape or watching the other four patients in the treatment room - all far older than him - with their families. This time he already had a small bag packed with his sketchpad and pencils, plus a couple of other books he'd found in the bookcases from the sitting room to read while waiting for his treatment to finish.
Had Snape seen the young wizard up so early, he would assume Harry was anxious about his chemotherapy. Although technically the professor wouldn't be wrong - he was always anxious about chemotherapy - the truth was his insomnia started the first week after leaving Hogwarts and officially moving in with Snape full-time in their recently renovated home. Naturally, Harry assumed he was just getting used to his new space, but he really did love the small home; it was perfect for the two of them. His bedroom was everything he could have ever wanted and set up in a very similar fashion to his room in their dungeon quarters with light blue painted walls adorned with Gryffindor and Quidditch posters and pictures of his sketches throughout the year. On the wall flush with the door was his wardrobe, holding his casual clothes and pyjamas as he'd left his useless school clothes back at Hogwarts. The plush bed - with the same green bedspread he'd brought with him from Hogwarts - was set up along the right wall coming out into the room under his window. In that position, he could sit up in his bed and watch the sunset over the winding river in the distance and the old mill smokestacks crumbling from their lack of use over the years. The neighborhood around Spinner's End might have left a lot to be desired, and occasionally Harry didn't always feel the safest, nevertheless he learned his way around quickly - when he was feeling well enough to leave - and the fact that no one here knew anything about him was a welcome change. No one would ever guess that after a month of living in Cokeworth with Snape, he actually did like the area. It probably helped knowing his mum had grown up here and whenever he spent time by the polluted river - imagining it back in its clean state - or the park, he thought about how she walked the same paths he was walking through.
Once he came to terms that the insomnia wasn't caused by his unfamiliar surroundings, he thought maybe it had to do with the idea that he kind of had a parent now, except unlike Ron, Hermione, or even Draco, his parental figure had no real connection to him. As crazy as it was, considering the year they had and everything they'd been through, in the back of his mind, it didn't always feel real to him. Sometimes, he found himself worrying there was a chance Snape would change his mind about this whole thing and turn his back on Harry; what would he do then? However, his uncertainty decreased as the days passed and the two wizards fell into a good routine and rhythm together. After only the first week and a half of living in Spinner's End, the severe anxiety lessened a bit and he found himself trusting the professor would be there for him through just about anything, as close to unconditional love as they could be given their circumstances.
The nightmares started about a week later, following a similar timeframe of the nightmares after the graveyard and the Department of Mysteries; with Cedric's and Sirius's deaths playing over in his head every time he fell asleep. They confused him because no one of significance died at Malfoy Manor that day, and he wasn't treated nearly as badly as Draco or Snape had during his imprisonment, yet his mind kept bringing him back to watch - standing there waiting for - Snape to be killed by Voldemort in the Malfoy Manor Drawing Room. When entering these nightmares, his body instantly became flooded with adrenaline, fear, and intense anguish, believing he wouldn't be able to get free in time and Snape would die. During these nightmares, his mind wasn't clear enough to know it had actually ended fine; they were rescued and ultimately they survived. The 16th of May had been one of the scariest days of his life - which was saying a lot if one looked at his earlier Hogwarts years and all of his experiences with Voldemort - and as the nightmares continued, he had no doubts his insomnia was related to how he was handling, or not handling, his time spent imprisoned under Voldemort's watch and believing Snape was about to be killed.
Most nights when Harry found himself awake and unable to fall asleep, or early in the morning unable to go back to sleep - as he was that day - he assumed Snape was none the wiser. They never talked about his sleeping habits, or even about how he was feeling overall, and the Gryffindor saw no issues with it; having no desire to go over every tiny detail of his head or body. If he decided there was no hope of eventually going to sleep, he usually sat up in his room reading, sketching, or doing just about anything he could to avoid thinking about the letters sitting in the tiny desk next to his bed from his friends. Not surprisingly, the letters started arriving only two days after school ended, but what did surprise him was the one dropped off by Apollo, Draco's Eagle Owl, followed by another a week later, and the one delivered in the muggle post from Dudley. He had yet to open any of them, unwilling to know what his friends were doing this summer, and in the case of Draco's letter, not yet ready to deal with what had happened. Neither of them expected to leave the Manor alive - Harry had jumped in front of the Killing Curse, after all - and therefore things were said he wasn't ready to face: like his childhood, his magic, how he was feeling about his chemotherapy treatments and cancer prognosis, or his plans for the future. All of it was messy and he didn't know where to start sorting through it to finally make some kind of sense.
That day, after waking up around half past four in the morning, the letters were practically burning a hole in his desk as he laid in his plush bed next to it. Another one from Ron - or at least the Burrow, since it was possible Hermione was staying there - showed up two days ago and just as he had with the others, he placed it in the top drawer and tried to forget about it. So in an effort to escape the constant reminders of his friends, Harry moved to the sitting room where he picked out random texts from Snape's collection: The Dangers of Chimeras, Guide to Curse Breaking, and Wandless Spellcasting, the latter of which he couldn't do a thing with, nevertheless it was interesting to read. And that's where he still was when Mrs Weasley firecalled over at seven in the morning; surely not expecting to see her son's best friend wrapped up in the red blanket she'd given him when he started chemotherapy last summer. Without thinking that this was still Snape's home and he should have gotten the man's permission first, he invited Mrs Weasley to visit through the floo.
While she made breakfast for the three of them - at her strict insistence and Harry's help with the muggle stove - no matter how hard Harry tried to get information from the Gryffindor witch about her impromptu visit, she kept changing the subject back to innocuous topics like Ginny's O.W.L. marks, his birthday, or Bill and Fleur's upcoming wedding in France mid-August. The last one was a bit of a hot topic in the Spinner's End home as of late, but the witch had no way of knowing the sensitive subject she'd brought up. The eldest Weasley son's wedding was going to be on the 23rd of August, and while Harry would be an adult in less than a fortnight - and should be able to come and go as he pleased - he still felt like he needed Snape's permission to attend. To further complicate the situation, he had next month's chemotherapy treatment only the week before and still being immunocompromised, especially so close to his treatment, made something like a wedding risky to his health. He wanted to be there to support Ron and Ginny - plus the couple helped rescue him from Malfoy Manor, but that was a reason he didn't like to think about - and was determined to try any way possible between now and the 22nd of August to convince the professor… technically as a courtesy because he'd be seventeen already.
Things got interesting when Snape joined them roughly thirty minutes later, and the young Gryffindor watched the two people closest to being his parents navigate seamlessly through an obviously clandestine conversation. Mrs Weasley had an agenda - outside of the ridiculous birthday plans - to discuss with the professor, yet she didn't slip up on it once; either while preparing breakfast for the three of them or when she sat down to eat with them. What Harry was most interested in, however, was whatever they were talking about when they both excused themselves to the sitting room; again, under the guise of planning something for his birthday. He had anticipated the privacy ward, but not the fact that no matter how hard he tried, he could not get the flimsy door leading into the sitting room to open for him. Clearly, he'd underestimated Snape's security warding ability.
Giving up on the idea of eavesdropping, Harry sat back down at the tiny kitchen table to wait on his mentor's and best friend's mum's return. The room had come a long way after the renovations and Harry was still a little surprised Snape - even the acerbic version of the professor he had known the previous five years - lived in those conditions. The countertop along the wall opposite of the table had been replaced from their badly cracking state with a smooth grey one, and open shelves lined the walls above it to hold their dishes in place of the light wood cabinets making the room feel far more spacious than it used to. On the wall across from the sitting room door held the muggle stove, allowing Harry the ability to use it. At first the Gryffindor assumed Snape only utilized it because of Harry's issue with his magic, however the professor had sounded very convincing when he explained he'd always kept the home as a muggle one instead of converting it to use magic.
When Snape finally came back into the room without Mrs Weasley, his body language was completely closed off, distant, and difficult to read. Living with the professor outside of school - and Privet Drive at the beginning of last summer - certainly had taken some adjusting to as they began to recognize their "casual personalities". Never in his first five years of knowing the man, or even the last year with this new version, would Harry ever describe him as relaxed, however that would be exactly how he'd describe his unofficial guardian since moving in. The combination of Voldemort's demise, Maintenance Phase, and Harry's own presence appeared to physically and mentally calm the previously angry wizard, but speaking with Mrs Weasley almost undid all of that in a matter of a quarter of an hour.
"She wasn't here just to talk about my birthday, was she?" He gravely asked, reading Snape's closed off expression.
The professor unceremoniously sat down at the table, pinched the bridge of his nose, and replied, "No, not exactly. Though, you should start considering how you would like to mark the occasion. I have the feeling she won't take 'no' for an answer."
Harry didn't want to celebrate his seventeenth birthday and somehow he knew that wouldn't be acceptable for either Snape or Mrs Weasley. How could he help them understand that for him, his seventeenth birthday only meant that he was now completely responsible for himself, which wasn't much different than the rest of his life, but still not something that warranted celebrating. No one else seemed to see it that way, only adding to his isolated feelings. He considered questioning if it were safe, knowing Snape would always put his health first, however trying to think ahead - a first for him and a skill he could admit he'd picked up living with a Slytherin for over a year - if he wanted to lobby going to the wedding next month, he couldn't use the crowd as a reason to get out of his own birthday non-party.
"I'll think about it," the young wizard committed, picking up on the distraction and getting back to his own inquiry, "so then what did she want?"
"You need to finish eating," Snape pointed to Harry's bowl of half eaten porridge. Another distraction. Whatever the two had talked about, it couldn't have been good. Choosing his battles, Harry took a bite of the now cold porridge. It had the desired effect because the professor gave a hard sigh and asked, "Why did you tell me you hadn't heard from your friends this summer?"
Shite. This wasn't exactly where he expected the conversation to go.
"Mrs Weasley told you?" He averted his eyes away from the uncomfortable glare the older wizard was giving him.
"More or less," Snape responded, "She asked me why you hadn't written back and from that, I was able to deduce you had received post from them. So I'll ask you again, why did you lie to me?"
He didn't say it in an accusatory way; not like the old Snape would have done in the same situation.
"I didn't lie-" Harry defended himself, but instantly was cut off.
"Then perhaps you need the definition of a lie?"
Harry recoiled as if he'd been physically hit. That was something the old Snape would have said and it caught him completely off-guard.
"No," Harry retorted aggressively, his eyebrows furrowed, "I don't need a definition. It was… just easier to say that."
His green eyes looked over Snape's right shoulder towards the door leading back into the sitting room. His only way out of the room would take him past the professor, besides the door behind him which would take him to their tiny back garden; no more than a patch of grass and a total of three tiny green shrubs lining the side of the house. The Gryffindor would have preferred taking care of this garden than his Aunt and Uncle's on Privet Drive for almost fifteen years as this one required no care at all. What the back garden wouldn't do was get him out of this conversation.
"What's going on, Harry?" Snape flat out asked him.
"Nothing," Harry answered, his eyes pleading to drop the conversation.
The professor took a second to compose himself, "I don't believe that and I don't think you do either. It's not like you to be this isolated."
"Like you would know," he mumbled and watched the hurt cross the other wizard's eyes. When it became apparent Snape wasn't going to refute the accusation - how could he when he hadn't really known Harry that well - the Gryffindor stood up, took his bowl to the sink, and rinsed it. The hot water and motion of his hands scrubbing the porridge from the ceramic bowl gave him something to focus on beside the burning of Snape's eyes on the back of his head.
"I'm going to take a shower," the young wizard interrupted, slamming the dish, with more force than he expected, onto the shelf where it was stored when not in use. "I don't want to be late for my appointment."
His hand had barely touched the knob to the door leading him to freedom from the suffocating room, when Snape's hand pulled on his shoulder - sending the Gryffindor back to the gardens at Malfoy Manor when Draco did the same move - and turned the young wizard around. Harry instantly lifted his hands to defend himself and dropped them just as quickly, but not before Snape narrowed his eyes at the movement. The two wizards stood staring at one another in the deafening silence, neither sure what to do next.
"Your morning medication," the professor eventually stated, holding his hand out to the Gryffindor with his various tablets sitting in his opened palm; his eyes never leaving Harry's. How could he forget the plethora of tablets he took everyday and would continue to take until the end of 1999. Most of these particular tablets were to keep him from catching a variety of illnesses due to his lower immune system, caused by the chemotherapy, as well as to help decrease the side effects from it. In addition to the daily prophylactic tablets, starting today he added an extra two chemo tablets which he would take for the next five days. It was ingrained in his head, and yet he'd completely forgotten about them; a move that could be damaging to his treatment plan.
Mirroring his mentor's stance, the young wizard watched as Snape slowly dropped the individual tablets - he knew each of them by name at this point - into his trembling hand. With a stuttered, "T-thank you," Harry then took off up the stairs for the lavatory, his mind 500 miles away back at Malfoy Manor, supposedly far from whatever Snape and Mrs Weasley were discussing.
Coming Up Next: Accidental Magic
My next update should be sometime between Friday and Monday. Since this is a universe I'm very familiar with, it's a bit easier to write than Finding Common Ground.