Disclaimer: The Harry Potter Universe is in no way mine, other than I'm addicted to it in a way that should just be *wrong*. 8-)
Author's Note: Just a little cookie, as I've finally finished OotP. The horror! *sobs*
He'd insured the boy's scores were low enough that he couldn't get into Advanced Potions. He'd expected a fight. He'd waited for Albus to force his hand, as he'd always done, to insure he made an exception for the boy savior. But no request was ever made. It was disappointing and gratifying at the same time. It also didn't sit well. Although people didn't realize it, Severus was far more attuned to those around him than people gave him credit for. He had to be.
"I take it the Potter boy has decided not to become an Auror then?" he asked, fishing for a response at breakfast one day. Albus' silence on the matter of Potter was beginning to disconcert him.
"No," Albus replied flatly, eyes sharp. Was he agreeing or disagreeing?
"No he doesn't want to become an Auror?" Severus prompted, realizing too late the mocking tone he'd taken.
"No, we will not speak of it," the Headmaster responded in a voice that brooked no further discussion. They ate meals for the next three days in silence.
Minerva's glares were venomous. He saw judgment in her set expression, the purse of her lips, the way she ceased to acknowledge his presence. She'd sent an owl to Potter regarding his renewed eligibility to play Quidditch. Evidently he'd refused. A warning in the back of his mind began to sound. Be careful what you wish for...
Albus had asked Severus if he was willing to resume teaching Occlumency. He'd refused of course, with the intent of ultimately relenting. He knew he had no choice, but the memory of what Potter had done still made bile rise in his throat. How dare you? How dare you?! Albus' response had been... enlightening.
"I have given you a home, Severus. A shelter from those who would persecute you. I have entrusted children into your care with the understanding that I trust what you strive to teach them. This I can no longer do."
"Are you firing me?" he asked, fear and disappointment warring with the sense he'd failed Albus somehow. It was the child's voice within him that still cried out, even now, for acceptance, that Severus had never been able to squash. He hated that voice.
"I've always known what Harry's childhood was like," Albus announced abruptly. The statement was like a slap. As much as Severus had tried to rationalize what he'd seen, the truth still spoke to him in the wee hours of the morning. Potter had never had a privileged childhood.
"No," Severus protested. This could not be. He'd known?! Didn't he care? Albus' lack of regard for Potter's feelings suddenly grew comparable to that of Severus' own, which was utterly unacceptable. He was a spy. He'd gone to the Dark. He deserved it. And Potter does not?
"Oh yes. But I had no alternatives, you see. I did what I thought was best. But I entrusted this truth to you, Severus," Albus said, leaning forward on his desk in his effort to emphasize his point. "I thought that if you saw with your own eyes just how hard things have always been for Harry, that you might relent. He never did deserve your spite. He deserved your compassion," Albus continued sadly, and Severus realized with dawning horror that the Headmaster nearly looked like he was about to cry.
"So because I kicked him out for spying in the Pensieve you loaned me, I'm being fired?"
"No, Severus. You are not being fired. But you are also no longer to be entrusted with Harry's tutelage alone. There will be others at all times to insure you do not... abuse your position of authority with him again." The sting of the words were laced with accusation.
"What does he charge me with? I'll hear it from him, then," Severus nearly snarled, rage, guilt and fear roaring inside him.
"Nothing. He will not speak of it. But what would he tell me if I gave him some of your Veritaserum, Severus?" Albus asked with a deadly calm voice. This was when the Headmaster was at his most dangerous. He used words in a way a cat plays with a trapped mouse.
"That he did not practice, did not pick up the lessons, and ultimately had no regard for his professor's privacy," Severus stated carefully.
"What books did you suggest he use to learn to ground himself? What other Occlumens did you recommend he read about?" Albus asked. Severus snapped his jaw shut. "Don't bother answering. When I asked Harry the same question right before the end of term last year, he seemed shocked there were any."
"So there is nothing I can say to you in my own defense, is there?" Severus asked, defeated.
"You've failed in the most important thing I've ever asked you to do. Pray that the damage isn't permanent and Harry reconsiders learning from you. Or you may very well have to consider changing sides for real."
No more was spoken on the matter. As no arrangements were made, it became clear Albus had failed to persuade Potter to reconsider. It was odd not to have to see the boy. To know he no longer had him in his class. It was refreshing and chilling all at once.
Severus took care to scrutinize Potter during mealtimes... when the boy bothered to attend. More often than not, he skipped dinner. Something the boy could ill afford to do.
He was avoiding Severus. That much was clear. And on those rare occasions when they were in proximity of each other, Severus took every opportunity to push his limits, to gall him into speaking. He took points, snarled venomously about Potter's deceased godfather, insulted the boy's intelligence and clearly blamed him for all that had come to pass.
Severus couldn't help it, and although he'd never admit it, he didn't understand why. It was like picking at a scab although he knew it would permanently scar. He had to know, to see for himself just what exactly lay behind the steely glares Potter now leveled at him. He didn't flinch at Severus' words. He didn't respond at all. And his lack of response worried Severus more than anything the boy had ever done before.
The loud protests of his friends did nothing to dissuade Severus from his persecution of the boy. Even when confronted by Albus himself to cease his antagonism, he couldn't seem to stop. Something stirred within Potter's eyes when he looked at his former Potions Professor, and Severus was damned if he'd let it rest until he knew for certain exactly what it was.
It wasn't until Christmas that Severus finally got his answer. The boy had refused to go to the Burrow. He looked gray and exhausted and gaunt. He listlessly picked at his food and seldom spoke unless spoken to. He'd taken to wandering the halls at night, no longer even bothering to take his father's invisibility cloak with him. Brazenly he broke the rules, but it still took several days before Severus took the opportunity being presented. It was the night of Christmas Eve.
"Still above the rules, Potter?" Severus hissed as he came upon the boy wearily mounting the steps that led in the direction of Gryffindor Tower. Potter froze, one foot hovering in place as he glanced over his shoulder.
"No sir," Potter replied in a voice devoid of emotion.
"Then why are you out after curfew?"
"I couldn't sleep," Potter replied, the irony thick between them.
"And whose fault is that, boy?" Severus asked sharply.
"Mine, sir," Potter replied. Ah. Now they were getting somewhere.
"Yes it is, isn't it?" he mocked. Potter began to resume his slow climb up the stairs. "Where do you think you're going?" he barked. Potter shrugged.
"I'm out past curfew. I'm returning to my Common Room."
"I haven't given you permission to leave," Severus said, feeling the triumphant roil of anger and frustration wash over his senses. It is still so easy to read your emotions, Potter. And in truth, wasn't that what he was looking for? To see beneath the icy stillness of Potter's shell and learn just what had grown beneath it?
"Then do your worst and quit wasting my time," Potter said tightly.
"Time? I'm wasting your time? Great Merlin, boy. I gave you nothing but, and look how you repaid me," Severus taunted. It was like poking a stick at a poisonous snake. It was only a matter of time now before the boy struck.
"My failure being your student has left me one consolation, Professor," Potter replied tightly, and now his voice didn't even sound natural. It echoed oddly in the stairwell, and Severus would later swear even the castle around him silenced in order to better hear what Potter would say.
"And what is that?" Severus mocked. Potter turned, and being several steps ahead, was suddenly eye to eye with Severus. He leaned forward and Severus felt himself break out into a nervous sweat at the venom in the boy's expression. No. This was not anger or resentment. What burned now in Potter's eyes was hatred in its purest form.
"That one day, the visions I still fail to block might reveal your death to me," Potter breathed, looking deeply into Severus' eyes as if to better convey his sincerity. Severus was frozen in place, chilled and horrified by the menace in the boy's voice. Potter meant every word. Severus swallowed once, then nodded.
"One day," Severus agreed faintly. Potter nodded too, as if satisfied with Severus' answer, then turned to leave, not bothering to see what else the Potion Master might have to say.
"Happy Christmas, Professor," Potter's faint, flat voice called back eerily in the stairwell, and Severus' breath hitched.
He blindly stepped backwards until his back rested against the wall as the sound of Potter's footsteps finally faded. His legs collapsed underneath him as he slid weakly to the ground, feeling oddly like a broken child whose darkest wish had been granted... Who'd now give anything to take it all back and make things better.
"Oh Albus. What have I done?" Severus whispered into the silence and hoped one day Potter did witness his death, if only it might give him some measure of peace. For as surely as he was a spy, he knew the truth now. Too late. The damage is done. His petty vengeance was far more successful then he'd ever dreamed. He'd broken The Boy Who Lived, and damned them all for his pain.