Disclaimer: These characters are the property of J.K.Rowling.
"Excuse me Professor Snape?"
Severus looked up from the stack of papers he was grading. He was startled, he hadn't heard someone come in.
"Professor Snape?" It was Hermione Granger, standing in front of his desk, looking absolutely terrible. She had her hands clutched together, compulsively rubbing her fingers. She looked as if this was the last place on earth she wanted to be at the moment.
Severus sneered. "What do you want? Don't they teach you children to knock anymore?"
Hermione ignored the barb, she glanced nervously at the door and opened her mouth to speak, then shut it again.
Severus set down his quill, irritated. "Well?"
"Professor I- " and then she stopped herself, eyes wide with apprehension. She was still pulling nervously at her fingers, rocking a bit now, back and forth.
"Miss Granger! Will you please get on with it!" he snapped. "I have eight different lesson plans to finish for tomorrow, a pile of despicable first year papers to finish correcting and their lack of spelling skills are severely beginning to grate on my nerves, so if you'd please-"
"Something's the matter with Harry Potter," she blurted.
Severus' heart gave a strange lurch. "I'm sorry?"
"Something's the matter with Harry."
There was a long, cold silence. Severus could feel his heart rate increasing rapidly and all he was able to hear suddenly was his own pulse in his ears. He thanked heaven that he was blessed with such an ability to mask his emotions.
"What exactly are you talking about Miss Granger?" He had never heard his own voice so cold.
Hermione's cheeks were very red and she started talking very fast. "I'm afraid- I'm afraid someone's hurting him, he's been-" She stopped herself and swallowed thickly to catch her breath. "He's been going out at weird hours of the night, Ron says, and dissappearing at strange times during the day. He'll go missing for hours and hours in the afternoon and we'll have no idea where he's gone and then he comes back and he looks awful. " Her voice dropped to a horrified whisper. "The first time Ron saw him come in late there was blood all over his mouth and all these marks all over his face and Harry was shaking and wouldn't talk to him and he locked himself in the bathroom all night. But we think he's been using a spell to cover it up because we haven't seen anything that horrible since then but he just looks wretched. There aren't any bruises on him or anything but he doesn't talk anymore and he's always locking himself in the bathroom and he, he-"
She bit her lip and tears started spilling down her cheeks. "We don't know what to do anymore, and I didn't want to talk to anyone else because there isn't anyone else and Harry seems to trust you and-"
"What?" Severus interrupted her. He could barely hear now, for the sound of his heart hammering in his ears. He was glad he was sitting; he was feeling slightly light-headed and was afraid that he wouldn't be able to stand.
"I said, he seems to trust you and I-"
"What are you talking about Granger? Potter despises me. How could the boy have even a shred of trust for me? Why didn't you go to your Head of House? Why have you come to me?"
Hermione looked stung, her eyes were glassy with unshed tears. "Because he does trust you. You wouldn't think so but he really does. Lately he's started to forgive everything horrible that you do to him, he thinks you're really great. I don't know why, since you're still so awful to him, but he's always defending you lately. He and Ron even got in a fight over it last week. It's been horrible. But that was before everything's started happening and I don't know what to do. He's disappeared again and Ron and I are worried, we don't want him getting hurt anymore. The Headmaster isn't here. And I couldn't think of anyone else to go but you. It's just so awful and I don't know-" She couldn't go on as her words were swallowed in uncontrollable tears.
Snape stood up crossly. Thank god adrenaline seemed to have given him back use of his limbs. "Shh! Don't cry child. Calm down. Listen to me, go to Professor McGonagall and-"
"No!" She looked up angrily now, through her tears. "I told you he wants you!"
His face went very white. "I can't help Harry Potter. I just can't." Then he stopped himself. "What do you mean he wants me?"
Hermione's cheeks flamed. She looked down at the floor. "Ron heard him last night in his sleep. He hasn't been sleeping well either, it's like it was back with You-Know-Who. He's always thrashing around having horrible nightmares, but last night he was screaming out loud, like he was in terrible pain, and he woke up Ron and Ron said he was crying your name. He had to shake him awake because he was sobbing so hard." She bit her lip, three fresh tears spilling down over her cheeks. She put her face in her hands. "I shouldn't have told you that." The poor girl was utterly miserable.
She sobbed again, out loud. "But I just don't know what to do, I can't-"
"Alright, alright! Shh, I'll take care of it. Please control yourself. Where is he now? How long ago did he leave?"
The poor girl was in hysterics. "We-we don't know. He just left a little w-while ago. He told Ron he was going out for a walk but Ron wouldn't let him and then he hit Ron and-"
Severus sucked his breath in through his teeth. There was too much going on, he couldn't think. He needed to find somewhere to put Granger to calm her down. "Shhh. Shh, come with me."
He stood up very quickly, pulling on his coat. He motioned for Hermione to follow him as he went outside and shut the door to his office.
He brought the girl to McGonagall's office and Minerva immediately sat her down with a cup of tea. Severus pulled her off to the side and tried his best to explain the problem. "She said something's the matter with Potter, he's been sneaking out at strange hours of the night and coming back like he's been attacked by someone, with blood all over him, like he's been experiencing some sort of assault."
Minerva gasped, horrified and put a hand over her mouth. "You don't think…"
"No, I'm almost certain it's another student. But I want you to take care of Granger while I go and look for the boy."
"Where are you going to go?"
He shook his head. "I'll find him."
Minerva bit her lip, her eyes large with worry. "Thank you Severus. I'm not sure if I could-"
He raised a hand to silence her. "I understand."
"I'll bring him right to Poppy when I find him."
She nodded soundlessly.
Severus didn't know why, but his feet were leading him in the direction of the dungeons. There was some sick sense, some sick pulsing where his heart beat below his neck that helped his feet to keep moving.
He wasn't sure how he was doing it. In some far off corner of his brain, he knew that some part of him was taking over that took over in the most horrible scenarios. He had experienced it before, but this time it was worse, he knew it, it was infinitely worse.
He suspected what was going on. He wasn't letting his brain delve into the details for fear the horror would overwhelm him too greatly but it was an all too familiar topic for him. He'd seen it many times before.
He checked every abandoned location on every corridor. His compulsion and methodical nature aided him in situations like this. No empty classroom was left unturned. He checked especially the unused bathrooms. Every time he headed to a door his stomach would churn with sick fear.
He'd been searching for almost an hour when he came to an especially grimy toilet down near a corridor in the Ravenclaw wing. He was losing hope, simply because his fear was beginning to overwhelm him. Even the nerves of Severus Snape couldn't stand much more.
He'd pushed open the filthy door and peered around the ruined insides of the run-down bathroom. Nothing out of the ordinary had caught his eye, and he'd just been turning round to leave when he heard a small sound, like someone releasing a breath held crooked in their lungs.
His heart stopped.
There was nothing.
Making sure to be absolutely silent he crept gently over the broken tile until he reached the stall door, which hung, broken on its hinges. His heart was now beating disturbingly fast but no thoughts were in his head, save what was behind that bathroom door. The fear was nearly killing him at this point, he couldn't bear another moment.
Slowly, he pushed open the stall door.
It took his eyes a moment to make out the shapes and shadows in the dim lighting but sure enough there was a small body bent into the corner of the toilet stall. The torch light above the toilet had long ago gone out and the interior of the dingy stall was cast in odd gray light.
Severus knelt gently down in front of the boy, everything in him freezing with fear and shock and at the same time, relief.
He studied Harry in silence, each heartbeat thickening as he took in more. He'd obviously reached him before he'd had time to put on a healing spell. His knees were drawn up tightly to his chest, his arms wrapped like iron around his knees. His face was hidden, all Severus could see was that untidy mop of dark hair buried in the top of his knees. There was blood winding down his wrist and Severus' heart clenched in fear.
He let himself breathe again and he hadn't meant to do it so loudly, but the breath stirred the silence like a gunshot and the boy's head shot up in alarm and Severus drew a horrified breath at what he saw.
Harry's glasses were gone and there was blood all over his face. Some of it was dried, caked and dark, like rinds of old chocolate, crusted at his temple and there was a fresh stripe of it that went dangerously close past his eye. An ugly purple bruise was fresh on his cheek and an older one yellowed at the corner of his mouth.
However it wasn't even so much the massacred landscape of Harry's face that filled Severus with fear, it was the look on the boy's face. Absolute horror, his eyes were wide with it, the deep green of his eyes somehow glittering more brilliantly amidst the ruin of his face. His open mouth was a smear of blood.
He looked like an animal, cornered. His body language, if possible, contracted into itself further. Severus tightened his hands fiercely at his sides. When he found out who'd done this…
Harry's eyes welled suddenly with tears. His eyes overflowed and the saltwater ran down over the blood. Severus saw him wince. His voice was like something from another body, it was strange and flat and sounded far away and it was painfully soft, he had to lean unconsciously forward just to make out what he said.
"What are you doing here?"
Severus shook his head softly. "It doesn't matter." He swallowed with effort. He wanted so badly to take the boy gently into his arms, every facet of his body was screaming at him to do just that but he knew he had to be so cautious. He was walking on the thinnest of ice. "This isn't going to happen anymore."
Harry's face crumpled with tears. His shoulders shook in a rhythm of shuddering sobs. He buried his face against his knees, arms tightening fiercely. One sneakered foot slid out from under him, in a sick gesture that was so clearly beyond his control. It was a dirty muggle tennis sneaker. The laces were undone and ridiculously frayed.
Severus said nothing. He was nearly shaking from the effort of checking his emotion.
Harry shook his head back and forth, as if he didn't realize Severus was there. His voice was ragged, it cut like a grate down Severus' heart.
"I can't do it anymore, I just can't I can't I can'tcan'tcan'tcant'-" His own words were interrupted by a sob.
"It's alright." Severus' voice cracked. This was ridiculous. But he couldn't let himself, he couldn't.
There was a long silence as Harry convulsed with sobs. Severus waited till his shoulders stopped shaking. Harry turned his sticky face to the side, breathing quick and panicked from where his head still pressed against his knees.
"Who's been doing this to you?"
Harry didn't say anything, he didn't look up.
Harry looked up, he'd heard the tone in Snape's voice, the way he'd said his name. He tipped his head down again, a tear dripping off his nose and falling dark on the material of his jeans.
He screwed up his eyes in anguish. Three more tears ran fast down his cheeks. He was so afraid, but more afraid that it would never stop.
"blaise zabini sir."
Severus sucked his breath in sharp. But he couldn't think about that now, that would come later. He watched the tears drip wretchedly off of Potter's cut up cheeks. He pursed his lips in silent anguish.
The boy had shut his eyes again, he was shaking his head back and forth. "I just can't, I can't I-"
He couldn't take it anymore, he put his hand out on Harry's warm thin arm. Never had anything felt more alive to him. "Shh. Come on, you've got to stand up. Come on."
"I can't.. I-I I…" the boy's words were overtaken with sobs. Severus suddenly noticed the violent tremoring in his legs and in his left hand, which was clenched into a desperate fist. "Oh please I don't-"
Severus stood up. It didn't matter anymore, his own stupid preoccupations, all that mattered was the boy's safety. Without a word Severus stooped and pulled the boy's loose body into his arms. It horrified him he was so light. Harry didn't protest, he still seemed in shock, his little legs flopping mournfully over the edge of his arms.
He carried him the nine flights to the hospital wing, Harry weeping silently into his chest. Never had anything felt to him so fragile, so precious in his arms. He couldn't believe any of it was happening. Luckily his mind had gone into emergency lock down and he was saved the trouble of coherent thought. His brain just registered things he was feeling, in a far off sort of way. The dampness of Harry's face in his chest, his pulse beating faintly but resolutely against the undersides of his hands.
He brought him in without a sound, the frantic horror of Madame Pomfrey thankfully muted in the still frame shock mode of his mind.
He laid him gently on one of the hospital beds and Madame Pomfrey frantically ushered him away so she could tend to the boy.
Harry let out a cry when he left his side and Severus looked back in surprise, wondering if he could have imagined the sound, convincing himself he had imagined the sound in his state of dire concern.
Madame Pomfrey shooed him out and then slammed the door with finality. Severus woodenly took a seat in one of the chairs.
His anger had distilled into an unnatural and unsettling calm. He could feel it pulsing through him and yet he was removed from it. He couldn't leave the hospital wing, not now he couldn't.
The gravity of the entire situation had not yet begun to take effect on him, and he worried that would not be the case for several hours yet. It was settling into him, deep into him and shifting something in his very center.
The thing that frightened him was that the boy's behavior had prompted something like hope to begin blooming faintly inside of him, and he couldn't allow that to happen. He had to stamp it out before things got out of hand. The way people acted in severe situations were by no means a reflection of their true feelings. He was disgusted with himself at the slightest suggestion that something could be happening. It sickened him that he would even begin to feel towards the boy in a situation such as this, when he was at his weakest.
Severus ran his hands absentmindedly over the raised marks on the inside flesh of his arms, scars from days ago that had only halfway healed. It was a nervous habit he found himself succumbing to lately, fingering the ugly ridges of flesh whenever his thoughts strayed toward the boy.
He sat in absolute silence in the waiting room until McGonagall came in and he took her aside and to the best of his ability explained what he knew of the situation. It was hard, hard even for her, especially in a time when cruelty was so rampant; to find it commonly among students was especially hard to take. They didn't yet speak of the consequences but the boy was sent for immediately to be kept under constant watch until Dumbledore returned.
Severus knew the situation had deeply shaken Minerva, and once they'd both been assured Potter was going to be alright (thank god for the healing powers of magic) he'd led her to her room.
He went back to the hospital wing to wait, even after he'd led Minerva back. He knew he ought to leave, but there seemed something horrifically wrong in leaving, he couldn't place the feeling except that he knew it felt sincere, it felt intense, it felt so wrong to be leaving the boy.
He stayed as long as he knew he could without notice, in that silent waiting room, just sitting, back very straight, unmoving. He waited until he knew Madame Pomfrey might come out and see him, and then he left painfully, feeling it was unnatural for him to do so.
He knew the boy was going to be fine, his concern was entirely irrational. He knew the Zabini boy wasn't going to get away with this, in fact the boy's punishment was already under way. The situation was entirely under control and yet there was a panic like he'd never felt before, a restlessness that kept him up and pacing his small study. He couldn't even bring himself to finish the stack of papers he'd been so focused on earlier in the evening.
Instead he sat at his desk, hands folded before him, staring tirelessly into the embers of his fire, feeling a despair opening inside him like he'd never known. It horrified him yet there was nothing he could do to curb the feeling. The only thing he felt might cure it was lying somewhere upstairs in that hospital wing.
He put his face in his hands, overwhelmed with despair.
He had in fact, been so distraught earlier, that he hadn't noticed that he'd left the door to his chambers unlocked and the door to his study, slightly ajar.
It was a freak occurrence in the life of Severus Snape to leave commonplace things out of the ordinary and any casual observer of the scene would have noted immediately that something was seriously wrong with the man.
When a small knock sounded softly on the half-open door of his office, his heart seemed to stutter to a halt. He looked up sharply and his eyes went wide at the sight before him.
There was Harry Potter standing in front of his desk in a pair of too large pajamas, a fading bruise on his left cheek and a crisscross of nasty cuts being hastily healed by magic, like a fading checkerboard on his ivory face. He looked very weak, maybe only half there, like a ghost of himself. He entreated his professor with wide eyes, his irises a vibrant jade because of the pale blue of his hospital pajamas. His voice was very quiet, yet resolved.
"Could we sit on the couch please Professor? There's something I need to tell you but I don't think I can keep standing."
Severus could hardly help but stare for several moments, the sick despair and self-loathing that had been souring his insides, all momentarily forgotten. He blinked several times, then remembering himself, stood up very rapidly and went to sit down on the black sofa by the fire.
The Potter boy sat quietly beside him. Severus said nothing. It seemed to him he'd never realized before how small the boy actually was. The amount of cubic space he occupied was hardly anything at all, therefore it seemed remarkable to Severus that a creature so small could occupy such presence in his thoughts.
"I actually lied. First, I have a question for you."
Severus didn't say anything. He stared into the flames, black eyes liquid in the firelight.
Harry's hands were in his lap, and he stared at them, picking absently at the frayed edge of his pajamas. His voice was still so quiet. "I know you knew what happened to me earlier." Harry's lips puckered, as if the words brought an unpleasant taste. "I don't know how you know, but I know that you do."
Harry drew a ragged breath. "He hurt me… a lot. And I want to feel better, I mean- Madame Pomfrey made me-" his hand flickered to the latticework of scars across his cheek, "I mean she took care of… I mean I still hurt. Inside. And I don't-" Harry shut his eyes. He stuck his chin out with a sigh, baring his throat, as if the words brought him physical pain.
With an effort, he turned to look at Severus. "You're the only one I know who can make it better."
Harry stared at him, unblinking and Severus was stricken with the acuity in the boy's gaze, the sharp and focused intelligence in those brilliant green eyes. He found himself locked in the boy's line of vision and unable to look away, and in one sharp moment he was reminded of his most recent dream.
"Can you make me better?"
Reviled with himself, Severus shook his head.
He'd shut his eyes, he couldn't trust himself under the scrutiny of Harry's gaze.
The boy didn't understand what he was doing, he was in a state of severe shock, it would be wrong to take advantage of him at this point, he was confused…
Harry slid very close to him. He was sitting on his knees. His voice was a whisper now, his words were sharp with sorrow. "You can't understand this pain I've got inside me. It's why I got into this whole mess in the first place. It's killing me slowly…" He leaned forward a little so that his lips were inches from Severus's cheek.
He pushed a lock of dark hair behind Severus's ear, with a tenderness he'd only thought possible to imagine and he leaned in a bit closer, this time letting his lips just brush the skin of his cheek.
He kissed him there, gently, with shut eyes, dark lashes quivering above his scarred cheeks.
Severus couldn't bear it, his heart was breaking, splintering what was this boy doing to him?
He recoiled from him slightly. "We can't do this. I can't. We can't."
Harry looked melancholy but he bent forward again, this time searching for his mouth. But before his lips could connect Severus pushed him, this time violently away. "NO! We CANNOT!"
Harry fell back on his hands, eyes welling immediately with tears. He shook his head. "You don't understand." He was clambering back up on his knees again, little hands fisting and insistent. He put his hands on Severus' shoulder, desperate and pushed him back so that they were face to face. Hot tears were streaming down his cheeks, "I love you," he whispered, "I love you. I love you so much I can't think, I can't breathe, I can't sleep, I can't do this anymore. Please, oh just let me…"
He pushed Severus backward, his tears dripping fierce onto Severus's cheeks. "Please just let me kiss you, oh please, just this once… I need to." His legs slipped down on either side of him and Severus didn't know what to do, everything in him was telling him that this was what was supposed to happen, this was right but he still felt wrong about it. It was like he was being sliced in half inside.
However when Harry put his lips down against his, all of his doubt melted away. It was right. There was nothing in the universe that could tell him that any part of this could ever be wrong.
Harry was perfect, it was perfect, the softness of his desperate mouth, the way his nose mashed sideways into Severus's with the hurriedness of the kiss—but it was sweet hurriedness and he knew instantly that everything he'd been feeling, Harry felt exactly. He knew it all from the kiss, it was like looking suddenly into his own heart and the pieces in him that had been so violently ruptured, clicked into place.
He brought his arms up around Harry and pulled him down against him, craving now to feel all of him at once. He began kissing him, all over, his mouth wasn't enough. He needed to taste him all at once, he kissed the delicate lacing of scars across his cheek, the bruises on his tender neck.
Harry cried, he shook against him with joy, legs still trembling violently with emotion and held on so tight. He laid on him, too weak to do anything else, but Severus held him and felt Harry's tears drip hot and sweet onto his cheeks.
He rolled Harry gently to his side, so that he was no longer on top but wrapped neatly in Severus's arms and Harry clung to him and he wrapped his arms tight around him and let his mouth rest warm against Harry's cheek.
Harry smiled through his tears.
Sweetly and oh so gently, Severus kissed the top of Harry's head, and he knew that the words he murmured into Harry's scalp were felt rather than heard. "I love you Harry Potter."